Named after the prominent South Carolina governor and signer of the Consitution, the SS Charles C. Pinckney was the 10th of the 243 liberty ships to have been assembled and launched by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company in Wilmington during World War II. The ship was sponsored by Miss Margaret McMahon, a daughter of one of the shipyard’s company officials. At the launch of the ship, then 14-year old Wilmingtonian Katherine Rhett the official ship’s “maid of honor.” During the war, the shipyard became the largest employer in the entire state with over 20,000 black and white workers running three shifts 24 hours a day.
Nine months after its launch, the Pinckney was to experience a great tragedy. The Pinckney left New York on 5 January 1943 under the command of Captain Frank Theoron Woolverton, Jr. as part of convoy UGS-4 carrying war material to support the Allied offensive in North Africa. Experiencing heavy weather, the ship began to straggle from the convoy. On 27 January 1943, the German submarine U-514 located the ship and shot three torpedoes, one of which hit the ship causing an explosion of the ordnance in the cargo hold and destroying the bow. Most of the crew abandoned ship in four lifeboats and a raft. A contingent of the gun crew stayed aboard and later fired at the German U-Boat when it surfaced just 200 yards away. Reboarding the stricken vessel, it was determined that the ship was too badly damaged to produce propulsion. The submarine fired two more salvos of torpedoes, with the second hitting the Pinckney just after midnight on 8 January and caused the crew to abandon the ship for a second time. U-514 surfaced once more and questioned the crew, but offered no assistance.
Although the four lifeboats tried to stay together, they became separated in the heavy seas later that night. After 11 days adrift, the second mate, four men, and nine armed guards were found by the Swiss freighter Caritas II and taken safely to the Azores Islands. No trace of the three other lifeboats or the 56 men in them was ever found. Captain Woolverton was among the lost.